Ukraine oligarchs given key jobs
Published 07/03/2014 | 14:07
In a surprising move after Russia flexed its military might in the Crimea, Ukraine's new leadership has reached out to oligarchs for help - appointing them as governors in eastern regions where loyalties to Moscow are strong.
With their wealth, influence and self-interest in preventing further conflict, the oligarchs could be the key to calming tensions and maintaining Ukraine's control in areas where pro-Russian activists have stoked separatist tensions.
But the decision to appoint the country's richest men as regional administrators has its risks. Some believe the oligarchs, who have a history of manipulating governments, may become too entrenched in their new jobs and could use their posts for personal gain.
The unexpected move drew instant criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called one of the oligarchs, Ukraine's third-richest man, Ihor Kolomoisky, a "swindler".
"They name oligarchs, billionaires as governors of eastern regions," Mr Putin said during a news conference. "Naturally, people don't accept that."
Under Ukrainian law, governors are appointed by the country's president instead of being elected. After President Viktor Yanukovych fled for Russia in the wake of mass protests against his government and deadly clashes with police, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov fired his appointees and replaced them with his own.
Mr Kolomoisky, a metals, banking and media tycoon, was named governor of his native region of Dnipropetrovsk, while Serhiy Taruta, the country's 16th-richest man, according to Forbes Ukraine, was named governor of his home Donetsk region. Both oligarchs are seen as pro-European and Mr Kolomoisky's media have provided sympathetic coverage of the pro-Western protests.
The move comes after other top oligarchs, including the country's richest man and a key backer of Mr Yanukvoych's Party of Regions, Rinat Akhmetov, called for preserving Ukraine's unity.
Experts said the appointments demonstrated that despite its strong ties to Russia, industry leaders in eastern Ukraine who provide jobs to tens of thousands of Ukrainians are against a split-up.
Mr Kolomoisky, worth 2.4 billion dollars (£1.5bn) , according to Forbes, said his task would be to quell any possible unrest in his region, which he said was being fomented by agents from Russia.
In Donetsk, a coal-mining region that borders Russia, Mr Taruta said he had never planned to serve in the government, but accepted the governor's post because his country was finding itself "in dangerous times."
A day after Mr Kolomoisky mocked Mr Putin's short height and called him mentally disturbed in a televised interview, Mr Putin took the critical view of the oligarchs to an extreme, calling the tycoon a "unique swindler."
Did Mr Kolomoisky have a reaction to Mr Putin's words?
"I don't want to make any comment. He said what he said. He has the right to do so," he said. "Let us call it even."